Five years after his last game for India, Arjun Halappa is back in the National camp. The former India captain and selector is now, alongside Jugraj Singh, part of the coaching set-up under Roelant Oltmans. It is a role he is only happy to perform. “It is a totally different test,” he said at the SAI here on Friday.
“As a player, it was different for me. Even I used to give some comments or feedback to the coaches; there were some arguments. Now I get an idea of what it takes to be a coach. It’s a big learning experience for me.”
Halappa was approached for the role before, but he declined the opportunity each time, until he finally agreed to come on board earlier this month. “For the last four years, Roelant had been asking and I kept saying no. I was playing regularly on the domestic circuit (for Air India) and wanted to continue. I'm still playing. But you can't keep on prolonging it. The main thing is I really wanted to give something back to hockey. I want to learn.”
India has begun a fresh Olympic cycle with a young group of ‘core probables’, calling up 11 of the 18 Junior World Cup winners. As a player, Halappa successfully made the transition from the Junior ranks—having starred in the Junior Asia Cup in 2000—to the senior, a year later. He hoped the current crop of youngsters could similarly meet expectations. “We have done really well at the junior level. But tournaments like the World Cup, the Olympics and the Champions Trophy are a completely different ball-game,” he said. “You can't expect results overnight. It might take four or five years. Of course, we are hosting the 2018 World Cup; 2020 (Olympics) as a target is always there. But if we want good results from these guys, 2022 (World Cup) and 2024 (Olympics) will be really possible.”
Halappa was pleased he had not only Oltmans but also Harendra Singh—a coach he has known from his junior days—to lean on for support. “Everyone talks about how there are no good Indian coaches. But that has changed now with Harendra winning the Junior World Cup,” he said. “He’s professional enough and ready to adopt modern training methods. He’s the only Indian coach to have done the FIH Masters coaching programme. All this because he wanted to show the world that India can produce quality hockey coaches too. I want that trend to continue.”
A number of those in the current side—P. R. Sreejesh, Rupinder Pal Singh, S. V. Sunil and Sardar Singh—were teammates of Halappa’s once. But young or old, he had no trouble dealing with players, the 36-year-old stated. “We Indians have this tendency of wanting people to treat us as superiors when we’re in a position of power. I don't want that,” he said. “I’m normal with the players. On the field, only they matter, not the coach.”
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